Most of us own multiple types of chargers to replenish our devices. That’s because many products, like Apple phones and Microsoft Surface computers, are plugged in with wires that use unique connectors.
Soon, that may no longer be the case.
This month, the European Union announced a mandate that will require all new portable devices like smartphones, earbuds and wireless keyboards to use a common charger by 2024. Two years later, the same rules will apply to new laptops.
Although the law will be enforced throughout Europe, it may affect consumers worldwide. That’s because it will most likely be costly for tech companies to make products with different charging technology only for European countries.
The legislation, which regulators say will reduce e-waste, appears targeted at Apple, whose iPhones, iPads and Macs use an array of charging technologies. Apple, which declined to comment, sent a letter to the European Commission in November expressing its opposition to the mandate, arguing it would stifle introductions of new charging technologies. Terence Zakka, a spokesman for the commission, said the legislation could be swiftly updated to ensure it kept up with new technology.
The long story short is that, no matter where you live, most devices you buy in the coming years will probably include a charging port known as USB-C. The shift may be a frustrating transition for many, and perhaps most acutely for iPhone customers who have collected wires and accessories using Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector since its introduction a decade ago. Those products will become impractical to use once the mandate takes effect and people begin to buy new products that lack Lightning connections.
So it will help to prepare for this transition to avoid waste. Here’s what you can do.
Future-proof your charging setup
First, let’s talk about USB-C. It’s that oval connector that works with many modern Android phones and laptops. It’s not the same as Apple’s flat rectangular Lightning connector or the bulky USB rectangular connector, which is an older technology called USB-A.
The European law requires all devices to use USB-C by 2026. So we will need to plan accordingly to incorporate that connector into the products we use to recharge our devices, including power bricks and wires.
When buying a power brick that hooks up to your computer or phone via a wire, make sure to get one with the oval USB-C port. That will allow it to accept a USB-C power cable, which will plug into your future phone or computer.
Many Android phones and computers already use USB-C power cables — so continue to buy those if you need to. But let’s say you use Apple phones, which use the Lightning connector. If your wired Lightning charger for your iPhone breaks, it will still make sense to buy a replacement cable because those wires are relatively inexpensive. High-quality, third-party Lightning cables cost as little as $15. The safest bet is to buy a Lightning cable with a USB-C connector on the other end, to ensure that it will plug in to your next laptop or power brick.
Another option is to go wireless, said John Bumstead, the owner of RDKL Incorporated, a company that sells refurbished Apple hardware. Most modern smartphones, including iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones, work with a newer wireless charging technology known as magnetic induction, which uses an electrical current to generate a magnetic field and create voltage that powers your device without plugging a wire into it.
A trickier conundrum concerns buying accessories like keyboards and mice, Mr. Bumstead said. Some new products like Apple’s $200 Magic Keyboard or its $150 Magic Trackpad include Lightning ports.
It would be wise to wait a couple of years for future versions of those products, Mr. Bumstead said. That’s because once the USB-C mandate takes effect, it will be a hassle to carry a USB-C cable for your phone and computer and a Lightning cable for your keyboard or mouse. It will be more convenient to carry one cable that charges everything. That’s the entire point of the European law.
Still, when everything uses the same type of connector in a few years, that won’t mean you will have to discard your devices that use proprietary connections. One option for making them more convenient to use is to buy an adapter, like a dongle that allows a Lightning connector to accept a USB-C connection, Mr. Bumstead said. That way, if you have just one device that uses a Lightning connector, you can use the dongle to continue to plug in that device with a USB-C cable.
Dongles are an inelegant solution, however, because they are tiny and easy to lose, so you’re better off not buying accessories with proprietary connections. Instead, opt for those that come with USB-C ports.
With some forethought, this transition won’t be so bad. USB-C is a solid technology allowing devices to be replenished quickly. And because so many products already use a USB-C connector, most of us already own plenty of these cables, said Jeff Ravencraft, the president of the USB Implementers Forum, a standards organization working with companies including Apple, HP and Microsoft to develop USB technology.
“This train has already left the station,” Mr. Ravencraft said. He added that USB-C was designed to have an extended life span, meaning it should still be a useful technology in 2026, when the law fully kicks in.